Author Archives: Rachel Ruhlen

RVARC Awarded Technical Assistance Grant

We are proud to announce we will receive technical assistance from Transportation For America (T4America) to support our performance measures. The T4America announcement explains:

Through the support of the Kresge Foundation, T4America will be working with six metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) over the coming year to help them better measure and assess their transportation spending to bring the greatest return possible for citizens. After a competitive process conducted last month, T4America is awarding assistance on performance measures to these six MPOs across the country:

  • The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization in Des Moines, IA
  • The Michiana Area Council of Governments in South Bend-Elkhart, IN
  • The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization in Southeast Florida
  • The Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission in Roanoke Valley, VA
  • The Imperial Calcasieu Regional Planning and Development Commission in Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana
  • The Rapides Area Planning Commission in Alexandria/Pineville, LA

Why performance measures? To the general public, the perception is that the decisions about what to build, where and how are made in a murky, mysterious, political process. And once we do build new transportation projects, there’s little confidence that we ever go back and determine if it brought the benefits that were promised. Performance measurement is a way to start to change this perception and make spending more focused on accomplishing tangible goals.

As the survey we released earlier this year shows, the vast majority of MPOs want to find ways to do more with performance measurement, but they’re eager for some help. This new assistance program is specifically designed to help MPOs successfully respond to federal, state and local requirements — or go beyond them.

Over the next year, these six MPOs will receive hands-on technical support in meeting the new federal requirements and also with developing measures that address other goals for their regions, like increasing access to jobs and other services, supporting community-driven creative placemaking, improving public health, and supporting social equity, among others

“There will never be enough transportation dollars to get to every project idea — everyone has to do a better job of identifying the most beneficial projects. These six MPOs share a commitment to using performance measures to better serve their region’s goals and improve the accountability and effectiveness of their transportation programs,” said Beth Osborne. “They are already looking for ways to integrate these goals more directly into the decisions they make about which transportation investments to prioritize. With the support of the Kresge Foundation, T4America is excited to be able to help them do so.”

Congratulations to these six regions. T4America and our team of experts look forward to working with you over the coming year.

Safety Is the New Level of Service

Traffic fatalities (red) and injuries (yellow) in 2015

I attended the Safety Performance Measures Target Setting Workshop in Richmond, VA. That lengthy title might not mean much to you. I’ll try to explain why I was excited.

The U.S. Congress requires cities and states to report Performance Measures to the Federal Highway Administration every year, such as bridge conditions, freight movement, and traffic congestion.

The five required Safety Performance Measures are:

  • Number of fatalities
  • Number of serious injuries
  • Rate of fatalities per vehicle mile traveled
  • Rate of serious injuries per vehicle mile traveled
  • Number of bike/ped fatalities and serious injuries

Recently, Congress also required cities and states to set targets for their Safety Performance Measures. This requirement confused me. What possible fatality target can you choose other than ZERO?

I learned that “setting targets” means to calculate evidence-based “targets”, or forecast. We forecast the number of fatalities we think we’ll have based on the numbers of fatalities we’ve had over the past several years. In Virginia, it’s been declining by about 2%, so Virginia’s target is a 2% decrease.

Congress next directed the Federal Highway Administration to assess whether cities and states are meeting their targets. If Virginia’s traffic fatalities decrease by 2%, we pass! But if we see less than a 2% decrease, we don’t necessarily fail. The Federal Highway Administration will determine if we had any decrease at all. If so, we pass! If not—we fail.

The challenge doesn’t seem to be particularly stringent at first glance. If the trend of the past few years continues, we pass. Sounds like we can do nothing and get an A+!

But that’s not true. We hope that recent efforts to improve traffic safety is one of the factors causing the decline in fatalities (although we know that there are many factors). To pass, we must at least keep doing what we’ve been doing.

What are the consequences for failure? Well, nothing really. I wonder if the original legislation did include consequences, and it was watered down. Still, I’m happy with the outcome, because what elected officials wants their city or state to be the one that had too many traffic fatalities? “What gets measured, gets managed”, and we are moving away from measuring Level of Service—how many cars we can move—and moving toward measuring Safety. What Congress has done is initiated a change in culture.

With 40,000 people dying every year on US roads, it is high time.

4-to-3 Lane Conversions

Cities around the nation are phasing out their four lane roads (2 lanes in each direction) because they are not safe or efficient. A popular method is the 4-to-3 lane conversion: Replacing two of the travel lanes, one in each direction, with a single center turn lane.

A 4-to-3 lane conversion in Reston, VA

A 4-to-3 lane conversion in Reston, VA

4-to-3 lane conversions reduce crashes and injuries[1], but the idea of removing lanes from a congested road alarms some people. Counter-intuitively, 4-to-3 lane conversion projects carry MORE traffic, despite ‘losing’ a lane[2].

The number of crashes decreases without impairing the number of vehicles after 4-to-3 lane conversions.

The number of crashes decreases without impairing the number of vehicles after 4-to-3 lane conversions.

 

The reason 4-to-3 lane conversions reduce crashes and carry more traffic is because of the center turn lane. Without the center turn lane, left-turners block a lane. Drivers are stuck behind the left-turner, waiting for traffic to clear in the right lane so they can go around. With the center turn lane, left turners are out of the way.

Many crashes involve attempts to merge from one lane to another. Reducing the number of vehicles that have to merge reduces the number of crashes. Providing a place for left-turners to wait that doesn’t block a lane allows traffic to flow more freely and efficiently. On a congested road, a 4-to-3 lane conversion actually improves traffic flow! On a lightly traveled road, the conversion has no effect (good or bad) on traffic flow, but does reduce crashes. The conversion paradoxically slows traffic even while carrying more vehicles—the traffic flow is steadier and more consistent, leading to faster travel times with slower speeds and less stop-and-go.

A bonus feature of the 4-to-3 lane conversion is that it frees up space for bicycle lanes, improving the safety of bicyclists as well as drivers. Nearly all 4-to-3 lane conversions include bicycle lanes. The 4-to-3 lane conversion is makes pedestrian crossing safer and easier as well—the middle lane can be used as a ‘refuge’ when crossing the street.

Of course, nothing is free, right? An amazing thing about the 4-to-3 lane conversion is that it is nearly free! Roads are expensive, but paint is cheap. Many 4-to-3 lane conversions happen when a road is due to be resurfaced. The stripes would be repainted anyway, so the conversion costs virtually nothing!

[1] The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) examined data from 4-to-3 lane conversions at 45 sites in Iowa, California, and Washington and found as much as a 47% reduction in crashes. The effect on safety was lower on roads that did not have as many crashes to start with. Furthermore, the FHWA found that average annual daily traffic increased after the 4-to-3 lane conversions—an indication that traffic flow improved.

[2] 4-to-3 lane conversions are not appropriate for roads that carry more than 20,000 vehicles per day. Examples of 4-lane roads in the Roanoke area that carry less than 20,000 vehicles per day include Williamson Rd in Roanoke, Main St in Salem, and By Pass Rd in Vinton.

 

How do YOU go to work?

Annette Dickerson arrives at work on Bike to Work Day

Annette Dickerson arrives at work on Bike to Work Day

How do YOU go to work? Take the survey! (and enter to win one of ten $5 Starbucks gift cards)

Imagine if you didn’t have to sit in traffic on your way home, staring at the exhaust fumes of the car in front of you.

Imagine starting and ending your day with a leisurely 20-minute bicycle ride, waving at your neighbors as you pedal past.

Imagine coasting right up to the front door of your workplace, instead of circling the lot looking for the best parking spot.

Imagine all the money you save on gas and car repairs when you leave the car at home.

Imagine the look on your doctor’s face at your low heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Imagine breathing cleaner air because you and your co-workers, and hundreds of others like you, bicycle to work.

Bicycling to work can be good for you, good for your workplace, and good for your community. Employees don’t have to bike far, or bike every day, to experience the benefits of bicycling. Whether you want to bike or not, we’d like to know more about how you or your employees get to work. Take the Bicycle to Work Survey and enter to win a Starbucks coffee!

Employees who bicycle to work:

  • Are healthier and happier
  • Save money on transportation
  • Enjoy the ride

Employers benefit when employees bicycle to work:

  • Fewer absentee days
  • Reduced parking costs
  • Healthier, happier, and more productive employees
  • Employee retention and recruitment
  • Showcase sustainability

However, employees face many obstacles to bicycling to work:

  • No bicycle parking at work
  • No place to clean up after bicycling
  • Dangerous roads
  • Managers and co-workers hostile to bicycling
  • Live too far to bicycle

We’re studying how employers in our area can facilitate bicycling to work. If you are an employer or an employee in the Roanoke Valley, please complete this survey and enter to win one of ten $5 Starbucks gift cards. Please encourage your employees, co-workers, and employer to complete the survey too!

How MY Bicycle Saves YOUR Life

Despite the title, this article isn’t about bicycle crashes. It’s about all kinds of traffic crashes. Auto vs. auto, auto vs. bike, and auto vs. person.

Traffic crashes are deadly, destructive, and common. They claim lives and inflict serious injuries that change lives forever. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among children up to age 19.

We can prevent that. We can prevent traffic crashes and we can alleviate the most destructive kinds of traffic crashes.

Let me reiterate that. We can save 700 lives per year in Virginia. We can prevent thousands of serious, life-changing injuries every year.

How can we do that? Before I explain what my bicycle has to do with it, let’s first consider an important element of crashes: speed.

The faster a car is moving, the more severe the crash. That’s not just common sense. It’s backed up by physics and observational studies. A difference of just 5 or 10 miles per hour can be the difference between life and death, between a close call and a lifelong disability.

The link between speed and crash severity is particularly clear when considering the auto vs. person crash.

  • When a car traveling 20 mph strikes a person, 90% of the time that person will survive.
  • Increase the speed to 30 mph, and only half the time will the person survive.
  • When hit at 40 mph, 90% of the time the person will die.
source: BikePGH

source: BikePGH

In Roanoke, 500 of the 600 miles of City streets have a 25 mph speed limit—but the typical speed is 33 mph. Just 7 mph over the speed limit can be the difference between walking away from a crash and paralyzed for life. It is literally the difference between life and death.

So how do we get people to slow down? I often hear, “Roanoke drivers are terrible,” or “People here just drive too fast.” (Every place believes their drivers are the worst!) We talk about traffic speeds as the result of driver decisions.

But many factors influence those decisions. A speed limit sign is just the beginning. We can use many tools to slow traffic speeds, depending on context: speed bumps, show-your-speed radar, enforcement, outreach campaigns, to name a few. New York, and other cities, found that bike lanes reduced injuries and fatalities for all users—not just bicyclists (for more data, see New York City’s Vision Zero report). Focusing on bicycle safety had the side effect of traffic calming.

When we make streets safe for my bicycle, the streets are safer for everyone—bicycling, walking, and driving.

Thank you Roanoke for new bike lanes, narrowing travel lanes, and other traffic calming efforts so we can ALL be safer traveling on streets.  Keep up the good work and motorists, keep an eye out for my bicycle and slow down!